Across America, company dress codes for employees are as diverse as the employees themselves. From being so strict that hemlines are measured, to telling employees, “You can wear anything, as long as you wear something,” companies certainly seem to be in disagreement over how workplace attire affects productivity.
Some contend that allowing casual attire implies that they allow a casual attitude, which results in a casual (lazy) work ethic. The other side argues that as employees are allowed to dress more comfortably, their confidence – and therefore their productivity – will increase.
Because of the lack of consensus, the vast majority of workplaces tend to implement an easy, middle-of-the-road type dress code requiring employees to dress in business casual attire. So what is the right answer? Scientifically speaking, how does a dress code impact productivity?
In short, we just don’t know. Just as managers disagree on the issue of attire, there has also been little consistency among researchers. In fact, one study, sponsored by The Master’s College in California, published the following conclusions: “There is an effect on… performance in the workplace because of casual dress… Casual dress has equally positive and negative effects, and… dress codes may or may not be necessary for professional performance.” Conclusions, indeed! It seems that attire is such a deeply personal preference that, at least from a statistical perspective, there is no perfect way to predict how implementing a dress code in your workplace will affect productivity.
However, there are some things you can consider to help you determine the dress code that best suits your workplace environment.
Who are your customers? How often do you interact with them?
First, who are your customers, and how often do you interact with them? Is it essential that they always view you as strict professionals? If so, reducing the rigorousness of the dress code is probably not the solution you’re looking for. Do you connect with customers exclusively on a business level, or do your interactions have a tendency to become more informal? If you relate to your customers in a business-only fashion, then your dress code should reflect that. Just keep in mind that many customers will judge a business’s productivity based solely on its level of professionalism.
How will your employees react to your attire guidelines?
Another question helpful to consider is how your employees will react to your enforcement of strict attire guidelines. Your workplace might never reach complete agreement about the dress code, but it is still important to consider your staff’s general preferences, especially if your main goal in setting attire guidelines is to increase productivity.
If your workplace is extremely casual on an employee-management relations level, introducing an intense dress code into this informal environment is probably going to be counter-intuitive. By the same token, if you already have a strict dress code in place but sense resentment among your staff because of it, consider relaxing the attire rules. However, it is extremely important to do so only to the point where customers’ perceptions of your company will not be negatively affected.
So although the precise effects of workplace attire on productivity are not known, the question of dress code is still an important one to address. There is no formula that can be applied to all workplaces; instead, use your best judgment when deciding what attire guidelines are right for your company. Consider your company’s unique goals, attitudes, employees, and customers, and use these traits to help you reach a decision.